Michael Frautz, why did you start TRUSC?
Mainly from the realization that some things on the Internet somehow do not work properly. I have been professionally active in the computering world for more than 35 years now and have experienced digitization first hand from the very beginning. I have always been enthusiastic about technical developments, but at the same time I am noticing more and more abuses.
Can you name these negative aspects?
For me, surveillance, fraud, bullying and data abuse are some of the dark sides of the Internet. Let us briefly dwell on the last point: on the Internet, enormous sums have been and are being earned through data trading. The biggest winners are the so-called Big Five, also called the Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Facebook, Google / Alphabet, Amazon, Microsoft. This is a problem because the trade is not transparent, but hidden. Without the knowledge of the users and with regards to the consequences. Without involving them in the transaction or informing them about the value of their data. Nevertheless, this is tolerated and regarded as normal. Only slowly is people’s awareness growing that something has gotten out of hand. Scandals about Facebook and the DSGVO help in this respect.
This means that everyone should have autonomous access to their data and know what is happening to it?
Exactly. My data belongs to me, unconditionally! This concerns my personal data as well as those of my family and my surroundings. This includes purchase and search histories, credit card numbers, places visited, business cards, preferences and photos. Everything that is currently on the Internet or has been made the property of Google, Facebook & Co. This benefits a few very large companies such as Facebook and Google. I consider the trade concept of “data in exchange for applications” to be fundamentally wrong because it is totally opaque and often disproportionate. At the expense of users, of course.
And what recipe do you suggest for changing this condition?
Recipe #1 addresses how data is handled on the Internet or data trading as mentioned earlier. Something fundamental must change here: Nobody should pay
unknowingly with his or her data. In my view, the perversion of the barter trade must be re-adjusted: Whoever delivers, is paid. Who gets something, pays. If you don’t want to deliver, you don’t deliver. No one should pay anymore with their data, unless you want to. There is nothing wrong with Google making money with data, but I want to know about it! Let us consider the idea of the honest merchant: Every trading partner behaves in a way that is reliable and fair, everyone knows the terms and conditions and can either accept or refuse them. I want this to be the case with the online data business. If we get this far, then we are back on the right track.
Recipe #2: A paradigm shift in the relationship between people and technology. Many applications and digital solutions are more concerned with themselves than the user. All too often they seem to be an end in themselves and strain the user, stealing his or her time. In my opinion, this needs to change radically: Not I need to understand technology, technology
needs to understand me. That is how apps and software should be designed. Unfortunately this is rarely the case today.
You don’t seem to be afraid of changing established structures, or am I wrong?
No, not at all. I have always felt the need to change things that annoy me. I think my employees can tell you a thing or two about this… I don’t like to walk on well-trodden paths. Instead, I visualize my goal and then think about which path is the most suitable, even if there are seemingly huge obstacles in the way. And, I don’t care much about the beliefs of others. On the contrary, they are even an incentive for me to question things, to think anew, to see new perspectives.
It sounds as if you are a very independent person…
Yes, freedom is very important to me. Actually, everything I have done so far has been driven by the urge for freedom and self-determination.
Do you have an example for this?
As a school student, I wanted more financial freedom. But I didn’t want to do any holiday job. When my girlfriend at the time took a job in the city’s cultural administration, I took the opportunity and offered myself as a lecturer for computer applications. Without any solid previous knowledge, but with a good portion of passion for computers. That was the perfect solution for me. From here, I developed my own training company, called AHA Computer-Service. Don’t forget, I was still going to school then.
And how did your professional career continue after this?
After graduating from high school, I studied business administration in Hamburg and completed the basic courses. Meanwhile I continued to run my training company which was growing larger and larger. Little time was left over for studies, especially as I was setting up an Apple system store in Hamburg at the same time. During one of my trainings, I got to know employees of Philips. I talked to them about the training business and complained about the strong seasonal fluctuations. Then they asked me if I wanted to support them in setting up their trade structure in Germany, which grabbed my attention. So I moved my company away from training to wholesale hardware.
The business was a great success. We were selling goods by the truckload, our turnover doubled every three months. Within a short time, this made AHA one of the largest wholesalers for Philip’s monitors and laser technologies in Germany. “What can grow out of a chance encounter”, I often thought to myself. Unfortunately, one day the Special Investigation Commission knocked on our door. As it turned out, the colleagues were among the key players in one of the largest tax fraud cases in Europe. So AHA collapsed like a house of cards. In April 2007 I had to file for bankruptcy.
This sounds like a crime story – or maybe a drama?
It was tragic, but one of my skills is to get quickly involved in new situations. I thought about what I wanted to do in the future. One thing was clear to me: I no longer felt like doing big business. A few months later I decided to simply open a small computer shop. Without being dependent on banks and the big players. This is how MKCL was born.
And this lead to the Gustav Windeit GmbH?
Yes. One of my customers was Volksfürsorge, an insurance company. We provided the first employees with computers. A total of 3,000 units. Three years later they wanted new ones. This time 20,000 units. And when these were to be replaced three years later, we were faced with a huge mountain of used equipment. At that time, however, nobody knew what to do with these devices, because the trade with used devices had not yet been established. That was the moment I discovered the business with used computers. I founded a new company for the B2C business: Gustav Windeit GmbH. By the way, the name originates from my grandfather who was my special entrepreneurial role model.
An exciting entrepreneurial biography! Is there anything that all these companies have in common? Values or maxims that can be found in all your companies?
I think what runs through all the businesses like a red thread is my desire to really think things through to the end. This has changed my company and hopefully my customers as well. In addition, the freedom that is important to me as a person is also an important value in my companies. The feeling of being dependent is hard to bear. And connected to this is also the recurring desire to question structures and break up old patterns. Let’s see where this will lead me…
(The interview was conducted by Katrin Frische)